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South Africa: Universities trying to assist poor students

University of Johannesburg

University of Johannesburg

Tens of thousands of matriculants will be turned away by two leading Joburg universities this year, but the top performers will be offered incentives to study at these institutions.

The University of Johannesburg (UJ) said this week it had received more than 75 000 applications from university hopefuls, but it could only accommodate 10 500 first years.

UJ’s enrolment plans included Orange Carpet – a programme designed for bright hopefuls, which rewarded excellence with bursaries and exemption from registration fees.

However the university said some of its extended programmes also reached out to lower levels of students to engineer a more “balanced” student body.

Professor Kinta Burger, UJ’s registrar said while the university strived for excellence it remained accessible to all through a variety of programmes aimed at ensuring there was a balance.

“We have a science centre in our Soweto campus which takes more than 1 000 students in grade 10 and 11 every year to teach them maths and science,” she said.

“In addition to this we also have mobile laboratories which can go to rural areas to reach out to students in disadvantaged communities with science experiments.

“We have set ourselves a target of reaching 20-22 percent in admissions of students into first year from Quintile 1-2 schools – the poorest of the poor – from the current 18 percent by 2020.”

Burger said 38 percent of its students admitted into first year came from Quintile 5 – mostly top-performing schools.

She added that although a lot of parents and students had been frustrated by the new applications system which did not allow walk-ins and insisted on online applications, the message was getting across, judging by the number of applications received.

“Many of the students have already been assisted and those who didn’t apply on time are visiting our mobile sites or calling the call centre where they are getting help,” she added.

“Next year we will go to schools outside the university vicinity to broaden our recruitment,” said Burger.

“We want to cater for the poorest of the poor but they must still meet the requirements.”

Universities draw up targets and initiatives designed to widen access to students from poor backgrounds to create a more socially-balanced student body.

This week, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said there were more than 197 000 new entrant opportunities at universities, a 16 percent increase from last year’s 184 000 students who enrolled for first year study.

Wits University’s spokesman Erna Van Wyk said the university’s admission policy actively advocated diversity in its student body.

She said the university made approximately 5 500 places available for first-year students and received around 35 000 applications annually.

She said the university did not offer benchmarks for recruitment from public or private schools, but it did develop two student equity programmes which span three provinces and 42 schools.

The university also offered Equality Scholarships, worth about R100 000 each, which were awarded to the top 10 matriculants from Quintile 1 and 2 schools who chose to attend Wits University.

The scholarships covered all tuition and residence fees, textbooks, food and a cost of living allowance. The students who qualifed for these scholarships would be supported for the duration of their undergraduate degree – provided they continued to excel.

“The scholarships aim to create hope in society, and in so doing, to create meaningful transformation and change in South Africa,” said Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Adam Habib.

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